If corporate culture is “the sum of the nature of the people who work at a company,” as Concur CEO Steve Singh said Oct. 2 at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle, then what happens when a company is acquired and that group of people expands?
“A great corporate culture helps companies deal with challenges,” Singh said, including the challenge of acquisition. A year after SAP acquired Concur, Singh and Concur President Elena Donio discussed what has changed.
Donio explained that part of her job is “keeping the noise to a minimum,” which means encouraging employees to focus on what they have always done and prioritize meeting customer needs rather than worrying about the impact of the acquisition. She said Concur continues to emphasize its core values of listening to the customer and continually innovating.
Joining a company that relies on legacy technology may present a challenge, but Concur still is invested in constant improvement and not just accepting the status quo. And, according to Singh, SAP believes in giving Concur its chance to shine and, “80 to 90 percent of the time, it’s been phenomenal.”
Concur’s culture also emphasizes employee satisfaction. When Donio took a leave of absence in 2007, the company re-evaluated the corporate culture and asked, “Are we embracing every human being and giving (employees) a chance to thrive?” Singh decided that Concur needed to do a better job of that and encourage excellent employees like Donio to return.
As for Donio, she decided that staying home with her children was not what she wanted, as she relishes the chance to impact so many people’s lives through her work. Still, she now measures success by impact on employees and customers, not in hours worked or miles traveled.
Not all businesses place the same emphasis on encouraging employees to have lives outside of work. On the first day of the GeekWire Summit, New York Times reporter David Streitfeld, co-author of the Amazon exposé that appeared in the paper in August, led a panel discussion with several former Amazon employees, all of whom now run their own companies.
All three panelists spoke positively of their experience at Amazon. Sandi Lin, CEO of Skilljar, agrees with the leadership principles that Amazon promotes and has implemented many of them into her own business. She sees value in being obsessive about the customer experience and setting high expectations for her employees.
When Streitfeld probed the panelists about the intense work environment at Amazon, SquareHub founder Dave Cotter said, “You say ‘intense’ like it’s a bad thing.” And Nadia Shouraboura, CEO of Hointer, said that, compared to Hointer employees, Amazon workers are “slackers.” Clearly, some people thrive on risk and prioritize giving their all to the business, taking a certain pride in how hard they work. As Lin explained, “We’re motivated by working hard and changing the world.”
Donio also wants to change the world by providing innovative travel-expense reporting solutions to her customers while creating a supportive workplace for employees. Contrary to the Amazon approach, which many startups have embraced as well, she believes that innovation doesn’t necessarily require an extremely intense corporate atmosphere. SAP appears to agree, claiming to provide careers that are “exciting, rewarding, and über flexible.”
Although there certainly are growing pains, it seems Concur has made it through this acquisition process without having to check its corporate culture at the door.